In a previous article, I talked about the benefits of 802.11ac Wave 2 over 802.11ac Wave 1 and 802.11n. My advice was to upgrade to Wave 2 if you were either coming from 802.11n or if you had an immediate business need (i.e. high client density or increased capacity requirements). But if you have extra budget and you can make the case to your management team, 802.11ax brings a lot more efficiency to the table over 802.11ac. You’ll pay a premium for that early adoption though. It will cost you around 1.5-2x or more compared to 802.11ac Wave 2. For SMBs, the best value is still 802.11ac Wave 2 until 802.11ax becomes more mature and comes down in price.
Doing More with What You Got
802.11ac Wave 2 increases the max channel width to 160MHz (previously only 80MHz with Wave 1), effectively doubling the capacity. But that leaves you with only 2 non-overlapping channels to play with. For denser AP deployments, it makes more sense to still use 80MHz channels to avoid interference. So how does Wave 2 still improve over Wave 1? It becomes more efficient. Higher modulation, Downlink MU-MIMO and standardized Beamforming helps increase aggregate performance with Wi-Fi clients even without the wider lanes. 802.11ax builds on top of that trend again, with even higher modulation (1024-QAM), Downlink and Uplink MU-MIMO, and OFDMA. There are a few more features that I won’t get into the details on, but the end result is less overhead and more performance with the same amount spectrum. According to Intel, that performance increase could be as much as 4 times for heavily congested areas.
Increased Battery Life for Those Pesky Mobile Devices
We live in a mobile world with the proliferation of smart phones, tablets and IoT devices. In order to help those devices save precious battery power, 802.11ax implements Target Wake Time (TWT). It tells a device when to go to sleep and when to wake up, so that device saves power while it’s waiting. Even though this could be happening very quickly, those savings add up over time. Times that by many devices on a Wi-Fi network and the savings multiplies even further.
802.11ac Wave 2 Wi-Fi 5 or 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6?
If you have a long-term plan to maintain your hardware for 5 years or more without changing, 802.11ax can keep you relevant for longer as an early adopter, but you’ll also pay a price premium for that luxury. It makes sense if you’ve got incoming budget to refresh that Stadium or Campus environment that has extremely high client density to make the most use of that Wi-Fi efficiency. Most SMBs though will change their hardware every 2-3 years, especially if hardware fails, so paying a premium for the latest and greatest might not make financial sense. In that case, 802.11ac Wave 2 Access Points still provide the best value and performance.